Gods Tapestry: Reading the Bible in a World of Religious Diversity

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The alternative understanding of the Bible which follows below has been shaped by my own Church's statement on what the Bible is and why we use it. This statement is the fifth paragraph of the Basis of Union , the theological foundation on which the Uniting Church in Australia was formed in It's a statement which reflects the more classical theological understanding of the Bible as primarily determined by its relationship to Jesus Christ. It also affirms the Bible's normative role but without the polemics of the sixteenth-century.

Just as the ancient church did, it places the reading of Scripture in the context of a wider network of Christian doctrines and practices. It is worth quoting in full:. When the Church preaches Jesus Christ, its message is controlled by the Biblical witnesses. The Word of God on whom salvation depends is to be heard and known from Scripture appropriated in the worshipping and witnessing life of the Church. The Uniting Church lays upon its members the serious duty of reading the Scriptures, commits its ministers to preach from these and to administer the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper as effective signs of the Gospel set forth in the Scriptures.

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There is so much here that invites reflection. Most conspicuous is the way Jesus Christ and, the Gospel about him, are presented as the unifying content of the Bible. The use of such terms as "testimony" and "witness" allow the proper ordering of the biblical texts to the Word of God which is not a body of information, but Jesus Christ himself.

Also significant is the recognition that the Bible is itself an internally differentiated text. This is reflected in two ways: first, in the reference to the Bible being constituted by the Old and New Testaments; secondly, in the reference to the plural "witnesses.

Both these moves provide critical leverage against the tendency to treat the Bible as some sort of "flat text" as implied by the "every-word-inspired" logic noted above. This internal diversity is critical for developing further insights into what the Bible is and why we use it. It is important to recognise, first of all, given the contemporary dominance of hermeneutics in academic theology, that the diversity is part of what the Bible, as a particular collection of literature, is. It is not a diversity evident only after the application of different hermeneutical theories.

Understandings of what the Bible is and why we use it cannot and must not ignore this. Two contemporary theologians who have shed light on the nature of this internal diversity are Walter Brueggemann and Rowan Williams. Brueggemann argues that the diversity of the Old Testament reflects an ongoing history of various schools of Jewish theology, and the communities attached to them, interacting with each other though "witness, dispute and advocacy.

In other words, precisely as a body of literature, the Old Testament preserves tensions and conflicts in the midst of agreements. The most common example of this would be the tension between those voices of the Old Testament which link blessing with obedient piety such as Deuteronomy and those which invoke lived experience to protest against such claims like Job and Ecclesiastes.

The tension between them cannot be resolved. Both are accepted as authoritative reference points for understanding the ways of Israel's God. A similar point is made by Rowan Williams with reference to the entire Christian Bible. Williams portrays the Bible as a tension-filled history where different theologies are in conversation with each other, correcting each other and calling each other to account.

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Rejecting a certain kind of postmodern hermeneutics, Williams also maintains that the canon itself represents a history of thinking and theological discernment. He notes the different theologies at work in the "historical" narratives of the Old Testament and the diversity of the Gospels. This leads him to suggest that "the biblical text But, for Williams, the framework of this history of conflict is quite clear:. The language might be dense, and behind it lies a fair dose of literary theory and theological claim, but the point is the same as that which I've been arguing: Jesus Christ is the unifying theme of Scripture; the proclamation about him as the crucified and risen Messiah is the fact without which there would not be the Bible that we have.

To grow in knowledge of him and obedience to him is the purpose of reading it. This is not an original idea. It is ancient.

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It echoes Augustine's well-known hermeneutics of charity from On Christian Doctrine :. But it also echoes the similar but stronger and less well-known statement of the First Helvetic Confession of Download Citation If you have the appropriate software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice. Share Share. Recommend to a friend. Sharing links are not available for this article. I have read and accept the terms and conditions.

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Theology – Undergraduate Catalog – University of St. Thomas – Minnesota

I'm going to give you a three-layer view of how people -- both ancient and modern -- have viewed Afterlife. This is what we in psychology call a "developmental" view of religion because it reflects the way both individuals and societies normally mature. The most rudimentary level of religious development is MAGIC , which includes bribery or other manipulation of the gods in order to guarantee a positive outcome for your Afterlife.

In the middle layer, Afterlife is dependent on your DEEDS during your life on Earth, and the history of religious art illustrates the development of this idea across time and cultures. One important thing to know about the study of comparative religion is that it is a wide-open field with many scholars from various disciplines participating, such as Joseph Campbell literature , Mircea Eliade history , Paul Brunton philosophy , Carl Jung psychiatry , and Sir James Frazier anthropology.

Today, we'll touch on the Afterlife from the perspectives of religion, history, psychology, sociology, and art.


Most people in the world, regardless of their religion, believe that judgment for the Afterlife is determined by one's deeds in this life. Simply stated, if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you go to Heaven. But if your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds, you go to Hell. This is the story of humanity. My point is that human beings across time and culture share one story, although I must tell you that in the East, after an intermediate stage of Heaven or Hell, you have a "sequel" -- called " reincarnation ".

In other words, in the East, your deeds affect not only your intermediate destination of Heaven or Hell, but also determine the condition of your next life. After the deceased goes into the darkness which is the body of Nut , he or she comes forth into the light, into the Great Hall of Truth. Osiris is the King of the Afterlife, and Isis is his queen. For over 3, years, Osiris was known as the "Resurrection and the Life". Your deeds in life were judged by weighing your heart against a feather, and woe to those whose heart is heavy with sin! Here, three angels preside over judgment -- Mithra , Sraosha , and Rashnu.

Rashnu holds the scales, Sarosha is the judge, and Mithra listens to appeals. Your good deeds are weighed against your bad deeds, and then you pass over a bridge. If your good deeds are heavier, the bridge is wide open to you, and you pass over easily. If your evil deeds outweigh your good ones, the bridge becomes narrow, and you fall into Hell. This razor-sharp bridge imagery lives on in Shi'ite Islam. It is Michael who holds the scales in which your deeds are weighed. Next we move from West to East. Most Westerners think that reincarnation is instantaneous, but this is not generally so.

This intermediate state is presided over by Yama or Yamaraj.

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His assistants weigh your good deeds and, depending on the outcome, you go to Heaven or Hell for three generations. In Eastern China, Korea, and Japan, his name changes, but he is always the same fair judge of the dead. Where he is the king of Heaven in Hinduism, he presides over Hell in Buddhism. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead , a twelfth-century Buddhist work, the intermediate state lasts for 49 days before you are re-born.

Obviously, we are aware of cultures in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres that have used human or animal sacrifice to bribe the gods to do or not do something the petitioner asks. However, this practice has been abandoned by the world's major religions and can be found in only indigenous religions today. On the other hand, belief in magical powers is still very much a part of our modern culture when it comes to "stacking the deck" in favor of a Heavenly Afterlife.

In most religions, there is a tension between the moral justice of judgment according to deeds and magic to insure a positive verdict.